While most outdoor activities are best during the spring, summer, and fall, there is never a bad season to be a birdwatcher. You can see beautiful birds all year round. Most birders look forward to spring and fall migration to spot certain species of birds, but winter yields some sights to see as well.
Birds in Northern Regions
Many bird species migrate for the winter. However, some northern species do not. For backyard birdwatchers in northern regions, there are still several bird species to see during cold winter months. Birds that don’t migrate and stay on in cold regions are often referred to as birds of winter. Instead of migrating, they put on insulation—usually an extra layer of downy feathers. These bird usually also bulk up on body fat to insulate them from the cold and provide the energy they need to survive. When it comes to chickadees and finches, more than ten percent of their winter body weight can be attributed to body fat gained for this express purpose.
See also: How Do Birds Survive Winter?
The Familiar Fiery Red Northern Cardinal
Perhaps the most familiar bird you will see around your bird feeder in the winter is the Northern cardinal. The image of this fiery red bird against the bright winter snow is commonly seen on Christmas cards. It’s a given in the bird world that the male of the species is the brighter, more colorful gender. The male cardinal is no slouch with its crimson red feathers, dark black masked face, and dark orange bill. It’s not uncommon to spot this winter bird with its female counterpart, a light brown smaller bird with red accents on its crown and wings. The cardinal is typically attracted to feeders filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts and nyjer seeds, though it will also enjoy suet. You can enjoy watching these birds at your feeders throughout the winter.
No Winter Blues for the Blue Jay
You won’t have any difficulty spotting and recognizing the blue jay. Its array of blue hues is a common sight at backyard feeders in the northeast all year round. This large songbird, with its loud voice and ability to make numerous different sounds, is the rabble rouser at backyard feeders. It’s known to chase other birds away and even become forceful with its own kind. Reminding one of a stained-glass work of art with its blue, black, and white patterns, the blue jay spends much time at backyard feeders. With strong bills able to crack even an acorn, they seek out feeders with sunflower seeds, peanuts in the shell, and corn. Seeing the blue jay hopping about on the ground looking for seeds will help you pass the cold winter days.
See also: How to Attract Blue Jays
The Little Bird in a Tuxedo
The dark-eyed junco is often referred to as wearing a tuxedo due to his distinct black and white colors. Though they appear to have a black head and upper parts, the junco is a dark gray with a white underbelly and orange bill. Some birders have even gone as far as to dub them snowbirds. They seem to pop up at backyard feeders right before or during a snow fall.
The junco may be small, but it’s a hardy little bird able to tolerate the coldest, snowiest days. They are usually spotted in groups and are a common site at backyard bird feeders. These sprite little birds are an entertaining sight as they flit about the ground, searching out seeds that have dropped from feeders.
The Whimsical White-breasted Nuthatch
About the size of a sparrow, you can easily identify the white-breasted nuthatch by its black and gray upper body and wings. Its underbelly is white with a small touch of tan. Its long thin bill is a tell-tale sign that you have spotted this nuthatch. If you’re unsure, take note that the white-breasted nuthatch is one of the only birds able to cling to the side of a tree with its head facing down as its tail remains up. With its long bill, the nuthatch can feed on seeds it has stored in the crevices and cracks of trees.
Because many of them do not migrate, you can attract these whimsical birds by hanging suet feeders in your backyard. Some birders claim that with time, they have had these birds take seeds from the palm of their hands. Regardless of what way they feed in your backyard, you will find the nuthatch mesmerizing to watch.
See also: How to Attract Nuthatches
The Littlest Woodpecker
The Downy woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America. Like other bird species, it’s easy to spot and identify the Downy with its distinct black and white markings. For birdwatchers, this is one species where you will not have a hard time trying to decipher male from female. Look for a bit of red on the back of the head of the male Downy, while the female is all black and white. You can find this woodpecker in all fifty states. While the Downy’s first choice for a meal will always be insects, it will also happily feed at suet feeders. Like the other birds of winter, cold and snow make no difference to the Downy. Enjoy watching this small black and white bird as it nibbles at your suet feeders all winter long.
The Majesty of the Red-Tailed Hawk
When it comes to birds of prey, the red-tailed hawk is the most widespread in the United States. It’s common for most raptors to head south for the winter, but not so with the red-tailed hawk. You could very well expect to look up and catch sight of this hawk soaring overhead. With its excellent vision, it can be seen flying as it scans for prey. Though most of these hawks do have red tails, there are also variations in color according to regions the hawk habituates in. This hawk is one of the largest hawks in North America.
Sadly, some backyard birdwatchers have spotted telltale signs of this hawk’s visit, most usually in the form of scattered feathers at their feeders. This is one bird you night not want to attract to your yard! There is little you can do to keep one out other than making sure your feeders offer small birds nearby branches. They can fly to them when they need to escape.
See also: How to Become a Falconer
Birding Adventures Don’t End in Winter
Though most birdwatchers look forward to birding in the spring, summer, and fall, birders do not have to become stagnant during the winter months. With several bird species visiting feeders in the winter, there are still opportunities to spot and observe these birds of winter in your yard.
Bundle up, grab your binoculars, and head outside to look for bright splashes of red, blue, and black and white in the snow. If nothing else, looking for these birds of winter will help make the cold months go by a little faster.